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Tuesday Night Cafe in Little Tokyo

By Monk Turner
Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2009, at 10:43AM
Poetry at Tuesday Night Cafe Monk Turner [Flickr]

Tuesday Night Cafe is one of Downtown Los Angeles' finest cultural gems. For the last ten years, the Aratani Courtyard at East West Players has been transformed into an artistic show-and-tell every first and third Tuesday of the month, spring through fall.

Event organizers Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johneric Concordia have seen the night blossom from something that was originally intended to get a younger generation to downtown into an artistic haven religiously attended by performers and spectators alike.

I sat down with Kato-Kiriama to get more information on the creative space they have created in Little Tokyo.

MONK TURNER: So tell us a little bit about Tuesday Night Cafe and how it all got started...

TRACI KATO-KIRIYAMA: Ok. Well we got started in February of 1999 and we are in our 11th season now. We are one of the longest running free public art spaces in downtown and definitely in Little Tokyo. We have had a bunch of different focuses from the beginning. Two of our main ones were to look for new work from the Asian American community and to create a space that was about gathering people through artistic expression and to make it multi-disiplinairy. A lot of the events we were going to were one form. There was dance, or spoken word spots, or singer/songriter spots, or all bands. We wanted to be something multidisciplinary. That moves into our second focus which is about being in an LA space. We're passionate about this town. It's no coincidence that most of the people in the collective are born and raised in LA. They love this city. People come and say this is kind of a non-LA kind of space but were like "no.. this is totally LA to us." It has been about creating a very passionate LA space as well.

MT: What made you guys choose Little Tokyo?

TK: I knew some folks from Little Tokyo Service Center that who built the Union Center for the Arts and at the time they also had an social-entrepreneurial project, the Union Center Cafe. When I looked around and I saw the building, I knew that East West Players was going to be in there, and Visual Communications, who does the Asian American Film Festival every year. I knew the cafe, but I couldn't take my eyes off the courtyard. I had to ask "what is going to happen there? Can we do something there?" And the amazing folks at Little Tokyo Service Center had so much trust and they were like "Yeah.. we really want younger people to come into Little Tokyo." We're talking 1998 before most of what is here now. It wasn't quite as active. There wasn't as much foot traffic. So they were like "Try it. Do what you're thinking." It started off super small. We had really crappy equipment and all the people in the audience were all the people that were performing that night. We remained dedicated to it and started bringing in different people. I think having different disciplines totally helps because you reach people across different communities. It was a space that was needed in several different ways so we continue to grow.

MT: What is a typical night at Tuesday Night Cafe?

TK: It is a mixer of a lot of different people. A mix of different forms. Music and writing, some theater, some improv, sometimes we have bands, sometimes we'll do short films. Sometimes we've done a broadcast from other cities.

MT: I was here for one of those. You were in China.

TK: Oh really? That was when I was in China and we did beer in the bag in Chingdu! That was one of the best ones. That was my favorite by far. You never know what is going to happen when you go out to these cities. That night it just happened to all work out and that guy who happened to be the hip hop dude of Chingdu was just down to perform he was really great.

MT: It looks like you guys have something set up there broadcasting out to the internet. So if one of our readers wanted to watch from the comfort of their own home...

TK: Ok yeah, so another thing we do is stream all the shows live from ustream. People can watch from wherever. We've had people from Scotland, the Philippines, New York, and all over watching. One of our main producers moved up to San Francisco and he watches every single show online.

MT: Anything else you'd like to mention to our readers?

TK: Our big thing for this year is July 18th. We're doing this thing called 'The Party.' We're not a group that is ever going to do dinners, but we want to be more self sustainable. It'll be at JACCC plaza, it'll be fun, we'll have DJs all night, performances at the top of every hour, and we're also going to use it as a community organizing event as well. On the face of this it is a show. But, underneath we're trying to build resources and connections between all kinds of groups, artists, and community organizations. Because it's not just an art space, it's a community.

Tuesday Night Cafe takes place every first and third Tuesday of the month at 7pm in the Aratani Courtyard, 120 Judge John Aiso Street (San Pedro St.) between Temple and 1st. The events are free but donations are appreciated.

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